In 1998, a little film came out called There’s Something About Mary. You might remember it.
For those of you who need a refresher, it was a gross-out rom-com. It had Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller in it. And, in amongst the tale of Ted Stroehmann pursuing his high school love, the film featured a bit of risqué behaviour, culminating in a slightly cringeworthy sperm joke.
Ring any bells?
But there’s something else about There’s Something About Mary that you should know.
It was R-Rated.
Yep, back in 1998 the use of sperm as moisturiser and a frisky roommate’s dog got the film an R Rating, meaning that access was restricted to those older than 18.
Nowadays, it seems laughable that such a gross, granted, but relatively inoffensive film could be restricted to adult viewing. Because the bar for an R-Rating – and all classifications, for that manner – is slowly but surely being raised. But There’s Something About Mary is just the tip of the iceberg: Good Will Hunting, Saving Private Ryan and The Matrix are just some popular films which are adult, sure, but surely wouldn’t be given their R rating if they were released in 2013.
The issue is most prominent in the action/sci-fi genre, where the classification of violence and gore is slowly becoming relaxed and R rated films are becoming less common.
But don’t go accusing us of creating a ‘won’t somebody please think of the children’-esque moral panic.
We’re not Mrs Lovejoys. This is science.
Researchers from Ohio State University have compared over 900 blockbuster action movies movies released between 1950 and the present day. They found that there was a marked difference between the classification standards of the films in cinemas now, and those of yesteryear. From Today:
They found that since 2009, PG-13 movies have featured as much or more violence than the R-rated films released those same years. And in 2012, there was more gun violence in PG-13 films than in the R-rated ones out that year.
Take the “Die Hard” sequels. One of the films the undergrads analyzed was 1990’s “Die Hard 2,” which was rated R. But a later sequel in the series, 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard,” actually had more gun violence and a comparable amount of overall violence—and yet it was rated PG-13.
The same thing happened with The Terminator series. While Terminator: Rise of the Machines (2003)
received an R rating, the 2009 instalment, Terminator: Salvation received a PG-13 rating, despite having an objectively larger amount of gun violence.
So, it would have been illegal for 13-year-old boys to watch Terminator back in 2003. Hey, it would have been illegal for 17-year-old boys to watch it. Seems a little crazy, doesn’t it?
Do you think that we’re letting our standards slip when it comes to R rated films?
Disclaimer: The information in this article uses US film ratings on the basis that Australian film ratings would have been similar.